by Mark C. Taylor

There can be no significant reform of higher education without a major overhaul of primary education and extensive changes in secondary education. One of the reasons students are graduating without being prepared to compete in today’s workplace is that far too many arrive at college without the knowledge and background to do college-level work. They have to spend their time catching up rather than taking the courses they need for their degree programs.

That poses significant challenges and creates extra costs for colleges, as well as for students and their families. According to some studies, remedial work is necessary for as many as 50 percent of community-college students and 20 percent of students at four-year colleges. The estimated price tag of that additional instruction is $1.9-billion to $2.3-billion for community colleges and an additional $500-million for four-year colleges.

Acknowledging that what we are doing is not working and that change is urgently needed, more than 200 leaders in higher education recently formed a coalition, Higher Ed for Higher Standards, to support the adoption of the Common Core, a set of standards for precollegiate education. Timing is crucial. The standards were adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia but within the past year, they have become the target of increasingly spirited criticism from people and organizations with competing agendas, and some states are reconsidering participation. Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York system, rightfully notes that “ if we start throwing in the towel now on Common Core, we won’t have another moment like this.”

Mark C. Taylor is chair of the department of religion at Columbia University. His bookSpeed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have Little Left will be published in October by Yale University Press.

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